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Scientists Finally Pinpoint the Pathogen That Caused the Irish Potato Famine
For nearly 150 years, starting in the late 17th century, millions of people living in Ireland subsisted largely off one crop: the potato. Then, in 1845, farmers noticed that their potato plants’ leaves were covered in mysterious dark splotches. When they pulled potatoes from the ground, most were shrunken, mushy and inedible. The blight spread alarmingly quickly, cutting yields from that year’s harvest in half. By 1846, harvest from potato farms had dropped to one quarter of its original size.
The disease—along with a political system that required Ireland to export large amounts of corn, dairy and meat to England—led to widespread famine, and nearly all of the few potatoes available were eaten, causing shortages of seed potatoes that ensured starvation would continue for nearly a decade. Ultimately, over one million people died, and another million emigrated to escape the disaster, causing Ireland’s population to fall by roughly 25 percent; the island has still not reached its pre-famine population levels today. Read more.
Save the Popular Children
Much of Africa, Somalia in particular, has had a tough time since independence in the 1960s, becoming synonymous with staggering levels of misery and leading many people to simply shrug and mutter “here we go again” when they hear of a new drought or a new war. But this current crisis in Somalia is on a different order of magnitude than the typical calamity, if there is such a thing. Tens of thousands of people have already died, and as many as 750,000 could starve to death in the next few months.
But support — meaning dollars — has been frustratingly scant. While many more lives are at stake in Somalia’s crisis, other recent disasters pulled in far more money. For instance, Save the Children U.S. has raised a little more than $5 million in private donations for the Horn of Africa crisis, which includes Somalia and the drought-inflicted areas of Kenya and Ethiopia. That contrasts with what Save the Children raised in 2004 for the Indonesian tsunami ($55.4 million) and the earthquake in Japan earlier this year ($22.8 million) — and Japan is a very rich country.
“Americans are incredibly generous when they understand that children are in desperate need,” said Carolyn Miles, president of Save the Children. “If they knew millions of children were facing death in Somalia, I believe they would give. Unfortunately, all American’s see is a hostile land of militias, warlords and 21st-century pirates.”